Ann Arbor Startup “Spreading The Warmth” To Preterm Infants, Homeless

By Noelle Sciarini on November 14th, 2014 / Comments

Imagine a way to provide renewable, reliable warmth with no electricity. That’s the mission of Warmilu, an Ann Arbor-based startup. Started just a year ago, the seeds of the company were planted by a group of students in U of M’s Materials Science Engineering program.

“We were given a project where we had to come up with a way to provide either heating or cooling off the grid,” said Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu. “After some initial research, we chose to focus on heat.”

The next task was figuring out where and when their product would be used. After extensive research, Hsia and the rest of her team found that heat was essential not just for helping to relieve pain and arthritis but also important for keeping preterm infants from catching infectious diseases or getting hypothermia. In fact, on average 1.2 million preterm infants are lost every year due to lack of heat.

“We thought, how could this be? We need to find a way to help with this,” Hsia said. More research revealed that a number of non-governmental health organizations not only had limited budgets, but nearly all heating options currently presented to them were either too expensive or not effective enough.

After a number of models and tests and prototypes designed with user feedback, Hsia and her team created a heating pack from inexpensive materials that could provide warmth without electricity or grid power and was easy to recharge. They built a warming blanket that could be used specifically for preterm infants, which they ran through pilot clinical trials Bangalore India in early 2013. They hope to have the infant warming blanket on the market with appropriate FDA clearance.

“We’re excited about the heating pads because of the convenience of them… you can heat them up in a microwave or hot water for a few minutes and have hours of warmth,” Hsia said.

Eventually, the team realized their products could be used in other settings, particularly in regards to helping the homeless. Homeless people are also prone to contract infectious diseases or hypothermia, and while shelters are doing what they can to help, sometimes there just isn’t enough room for all who need assistance. Hsia and the rest of the team decided to expand the company’s social mission, reaching out to programs that include At Risk Teen Ministry and the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and created a project which would allow them to donate a set number of heating pads to each group for their own use.

“We’re hoping these pads act as incentive for homeless individuals to return to shelters and programs so that they can get the help they need,” Hsia said.

Now that the company has a few projects and products on the way, the Warmilu team is planning to pursue an outbound marketing strategy and continue to look for ways to “spread the warmth.” Hsia credits the rest of the Warmilu team, which includes former classmates Rachel Rademacher and Alex Chen and marketing director Dan Henne, for Warmilu’s continued success.

“Rachel and Alex have been here since day one… it’s been really empowering to work together and use engineering to impact people positively,” Hsia said.

For more information about Warmilu, please visit their website.

About the Author

Noelle Sciarini

Noelle Sciarini is a recent graduate from Michigan State University. Now an Ann Arbor resident, she fills her spare time with reading, writing, and the occasional road race. Find her on Twitter: @NoelleSci.